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Lions Roar : January 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2009 38 through which air and water circulate. Soil microorganisms and plant roots need air and water just as we do. Without this vi- tal work of the worms, soil would quickly compact to the point where air and water would no longer reach the roots of plants. Should this ever occur, we will watch— helpless and perplexed—as everything green turns gray, withers, and dies. That said, the follower of the Buddhist path does not value the whole of the natural world because she recognizes her dependence on it to sustain her own life. Instead she values her fellow beings, sen- tient and non-sentient, simply for their own sakes. This is a traditional Buddhist understanding that accords with the con- temporary understanding of deep ecology. When Arne Naess, the recognized founder of deep ecology, and his colleague George Sessions wrote the first three principles of their Deep Ecology Platform, they were stating principles already paramount in the mind of a Buddhist: (1) all life has value in itself, independent of its useful- ness to humans, (2) richness and diversity contribute to life’s well-being and have value in themselves, and (3) humans have no right to reduce this richness and diver- sity except to satisfy needs in a respon- sible way. Nowhere that I know of in the long Buddhist lexicon will you find stated principles quite like these, yet I think they are principles that would seem perfectly familiar and self-apparent to the early fol- lowers of the Buddha 2,500 years ago. When an aging Buddhist such as myself stoops to rescue a stranded earthworm from the sidewalk, his doing so costs him nothing more than a moment’s mindful attention. He only needs to notice what is happening and act in accordance with the obvious requirement of the moment, and he does so simply because this little creature exists. So his act may not seem to count for much in the larger scale of events; after all, an acre of cultivated ground con- tains thousands of such worms. Yet in the very motion of his arm, reaching out and returning an earthworm to its rightful habitat, he enacts the quintessential move- ment of twenty-five centuries of Buddhist ecology. ♦